The Case Foundation has just released an evaluation of their innovative “Make It Your Own” program.
The assessment was conducted by Peter Levine, Peter Deitz and Cynthia Gibson. One would be hardpressed to find more knowledgeable, thoughtful folks on civic engagement and social media. The Make It Your Own program was a grant program in 2007 created by the Case Foundation to promote “citizen centered” approaches to local community building. With nearly 5,000 applicants and more than 15,000 voters. It was one of the first efforts, perhaps even the first, to use online voting as a way to crowdsource grantmaking.
The key findings of the evaluation include:
- Two years after the grants were awarded, 80 percent of grantees were still highly engaged with their projects and said that they planned to continue to build on them, indicating that the MIYO was able to provide a solid foundation for this work.
- More than half the MIYO grantees had achieved concrete and significant outcomes at the two-year mark, among them:
- Replication of the citizen-centered model used in Dunn County, Wisconsin in other communities across the country and Canada (Dunn County Community Visioning).
- Passage of a charter amendment mandating a citizen participation initiative in New Orleans and that the city may subsidize; there will also be a chapter on citizen participation included in the master plan for the city (Citizen Participation).
- Public recognition and “100 percent support” from the police department in one New York City community for a project to convene police officers and community citizens; it started slowly but now, some of the project’s most committed participants are NYPD officers (Conversations for Change).
- Statewide participation in an online community-building project in Vermont, which now has 20,000 users and more than 100,000 postings—accomplishments that were recently featured in Yankee magazine (Front Porch Forum).
- Presentations to Philadelphia’s Department of Health and Human Services about the approach being used by a youth-led initiative that works with young people in the juvenile justice system to reintegrate into their communities. It has also just created a similar effort focused on young people in the foster care system (Juveniles 4 Justice).
- The creation of four committees—one of which is now part of local government—and requests to partner with other community organizations in convening residents to identify and take action in addressing environmental problems in several Florida neighborhoods. Recently, Good Magazine and a local college of art and design partnered with one committee to run a campaign to encourage students to design new solutions to the community’s water problems (Summit for Environmental Action).
- Expansion of an effort to recruit young people from Chicago’s southwest side to address community issues using social media and hip hop music. In its first year, the effort reached 400 community residents who took part in the project’s activities. The first class of young leaders also agreed to assume leadership in raising funds needed to financially sustain the project (Leaders of the New School).
- Raising money for and building a community pavilion and holding public conversations that led to the establishment of a new organization to “boost up the scale”of green activities in nine towns in Massachusetts. That network persuaded seven town governments in the region to join together to be certified by the State of Massachusetts as a “green community”—a designation that allows the community to compete for a portion of a pool of state money for renewable energy projects (Hands Across North Quabbin).
- In northwest Washington, hundreds of residents, health and community group leaders, government officials, and businesses held several convenings that led to the creation of an action plan addressing a health issue citizens identified as important: improving supports and service provision for children and youth with special health care needs [CYSHCN]. This has led to a new organization—Taking Action for CYSHCN—which now has four action groups, a development team, and a coordinating council that continue to use the citizen-centered approach in all its efforts (Making Health Our Own).
- While the stories that stem from the Make It Your Own projects are inspirational, so are the numbers. From the Top 20 projects…
- More than 800 community meetings were held with over 5,500 participants.
- More than 1,500 action projects took place with more than 3,300 participants.
- Nearly 20,000 individuals were engaged in some aspect of the projects.
- Over 600 collaborative partners were involved.
- Within two years of grant awards,three projects had ended or been forced to close, due largely to the inability of the original leaders to continue serving in that capacity. Also, the Foundation was unable to locate one of the Top 20 projects.
- Other challenges faced by MIYO grantees at the end of two years were county and local budget cuts (which grantees also viewed as opportunities to spur support for their efforts in the community); keeping people interested in the projects; language barriers; and funding (although this was not one that precluded them from moving forward).
- At the end of the one-year grant period, 13 out of 20 grantees (65%) considered themselves at an “advanced” level of citizen-centered work, compared to 11 grantees (or 55%) at the interim stage.
- The grant award enabled winners to conduct public meetings which otherwise may have not occurred. Winning a MIYO award allowed organizations to conduct public meetings that would otherwise have been too expensive or difficult. These meetings attracted diverse groups of people in communities where having opportunities to connect with fellow residents were relatively rare. Most grantees indicated that the meetings were quite productive, suggesting they have the potential to serve as a foundation for ongoing work in these communities after the grant period ends.
- People who participated in MIYO projects believed this participation would increase their civic engagement in the future. MIYO winners were more likely to report that the people they had recruited to participate in their community-based projects said this participation had increased their interest in “doing more” for their communities, now and in the future.
- Even though only 20 projects received funding, a majority of the 4,641 MIYO applicants moved their projects forward. Of those, 28 percent started what was proposed , eight (8) percent completed what was proposed, and 19 percent went beyond what was proposed. Only 18 percent of all applicants reported that they hadn’t done anything.
- Applicants generally liked the grant process, especially learning about the concept and having the chance to describe what they planned to do in that area. Among applicants, the highest-rated aspects of the grant program were learning more about the citizen-centered engagement approach and being given the opportunity to flesh out their projects in more detail via the online application form. Nearly half the applicants (46%) said that what they’d heard and learned about the citizen-centered process was very helpful to the work they did or are doing on their projects. For some of these applicants, the concept was completely new; for others, it “filled gaps” in their knowledge and was “exciting because it completely fits” with what they were already doing.
- The overall applicant pool was not especially strong in terms of its reflection of “citizen-centered” efforts as defined by Citizens at the Center. Despite the Foundation’s efforts to include definitions of this concept in all its materials—including grant guidelines, website announcements, and the applications themselves—applicants tended to interpret the phrase as synonymous with community service, volunteering, and/or “effective or fair delivery of services to citizens,” rather than with community problem-solving that involves citizens.
- The MIYO winners, however, did reflect the citizen-centered concept, suggesting that using a combination of both experts and external reviewers at the final stages of the effort to score and assess proposals was effective in surfacing projects that best illustrated the concept.
Go and read the full report, it’s great stuff.